THE PEMBROKESHIRE GENERAL ELECTION OF 1970
By J. Graham Jones
Desmond Louis Donnelly entered the House of Commons in the general election of February 1950 as the first Labour MP for the highly marginal Pembrokeshire constituency. 1 At just 29 years of age, he was the youngest Labour MP in the new House of Commons. From the outset he was widely viewed as something of a political maverick and was initially seen as an avid follower of Aneurin Bevan before in 1954 veering sharply to the right within the Labour Party and becoming a supporter of the new party leader Hugh Gaitskell who had succeeded Clement Attlee in December 1955. He also forged a close friendship with George Brown who became the deputy leader of the Labour Party. Throughout these years Donnelly was seen within the Labour Party as a rather dubious, unreliable character, ever liable to defect to another political party and one who could never really be relied upon to toe the party line. When Gaitskell died very suddenly in January 1963, and an intensely fought contest for the party leadership ensued with Harold Wilson and George Brown as the forerunners, Donnelly became one of Brown’s leading campaign managers. But it was of course Wilson who succeeded Hugh Gaitskell as party leader and indeed became Labour Prime Minister in October 1964. Although Donnelly’s position within Pembrokeshire seemed very secure – he had a substantial majority of 8586 votes there in the 1964 general election – he was predictably not offered even junior ministerial office by Wilson and subsequently became something of a backbench rebel constantly sniping at many aspects of governmental conduct and policies.
During 1965 Desmond Donnelly and his close political associate Woodrow Wyatt, the equally maverick Labour MP for the Bosworth division of Leicestershire, were a particular thorn in the government’s flesh over its plans to nationalise the British steel industry. In his memoirs, Wyatt wrote at length about his associate and his political activities, ‘Desmond Donnelly was a large, lumpy man with an ugly but not repulsive face. He had ability and energy and was a good, unpolished speaker. He had strong enthusiasms, sometimes sustained and sometimes not. . . . He had courage and verve but was not assiduous in studying details, so his writings and speeches lacked content. He became a strong adherent of Hugh [Gaitskell]’s, always in attendance. He was an encouraging friend to have around’. Eventually, on 6 May 1965, the day of the crucial debate on steel nationalisation in the House of Commons (when the government’s defeat had seemed a very real possibility), last-minute concessions from George Brown persuaded Donnelly and Wyatt to vote with the Labour government, support which gave it a majority of just four votes in the House (310 votes to 306). In the course of an impassioned speech during the debate, Michael Foot (fully sensitive to the many problems facing the Ebbw Yale steelworks within his constituency) had actually referred to Donnelly as ‘a compulsive traitor’, while Donnelly had retorted by dismissing Foot’s remarks as ‘Restoration comedy’. (One of Foot’s biographers has described Desmond Donnelly as ‘one of the few men in public life for whom Michael [Foot] entertained a positive loathing’).2 But, although their MP had finally come into line at the eleventh hour, rumbles of discontent persisted in his Pembrokeshire constituency for several months, while at Bosworth there was a concerted attempt to unseat Woodrow Wyatt. Donnelly’s personal relations with the Prime Minister reached an all-time low, a deep-rooted personal animosity increased still further by Donnelly’s advocacy of a ‘Lib-Lab’ alliance and his friendship with the Liberal Party leader Jo Grimond. Wilson’s biographer has recorded that, by the early months of 1966, the Prime Minister was most anxious to sack George Brown, but admitted to Barbara Castle that, if he did, Brown ‘would only make cause with Wyatt and Donnelly to destroy us’ . When Harold Wilson eventually decided to go to the country in the spring of 1966 mainly because of his party’s very small overall majority in the Commons, four Labour Party delegates from Pembroke Dock formally opposed Donnelly’s re-nomination and even set in motion moves to nominate a rival Labour candidate. In the event, time was against the dissident delegates, and Desmond Donnelly was again re elected to parliament with a somewhat reduced majority of 5931 votes after a keenly fought four-cornered contest. In July Donnelly launched a vitriolic attack on the Labour government during a further debate on steel nationalisation and, together with Woodrow Wyatt, he abstained in the ensuing vote in the House so that both were then formally ‘reprimanded’ by Joh n Silkin, the government chief whip.3
Desmond Donnelly remained a real thorn in the flesh of the Wilson government, especially in relation to its patently half-hearted attitude towards British entry into the EEC, Rhodesia, and steel nationalisation, and he provocatively advocated the establishment of a coalition government between Labour and the Liberals, an idea which he discussed with the Liberal Party leader Jo Grimond . By the summer of 1967 he was openly advocating the abolition of the Westminster parliament and the traditional local government structure in favour of a national network of regional assemblies, including an elected council for Wales with its own prime minister.4 By the autumn Donnelly was even anticipating the election of a
Conservative government under Ted Heath as in the best interests of the nation. His political opponents within Pembrokeshire observed closely his highly ambivalent standpoints and his inconsistent voting records in the House of Commons. Research by the opposition whips’ office at West minster revealed that, during the parliamentary session 1966-67, the MP for Pembrokeshire had voted on just 129 occasions out of a possible 428 divisions in the House, that he had failed to vote on the Iron and Steel Bill and that he had voted with the Labour government at the end of the economic debate on the devaluation of the pound on 22 November 1967. 5 Yet, during the devaluation debate, he had launched a devastating attack
on his own government’s economic and industrial policies and on the Prime Minister personally. 6
On 18 January 1968, following a heated debate on substantial cuts in government spending, twenty-five backbench Labour MPs chose to vote against the government, twenty-two of these in protest against the reduction in the social services budget, two demanding a tougher line with left wing rebels, and Sir Dingle Foot, the former Solicitor-General, because of the withdrawal east of Suez. It was also the withdrawal east of Suez which convinced Desmond Donnelly that he must resign the Labour whip as he sharply denounced the government ‘s action – ‘Mr. Wilson. should resign and leave public life. He is a transitory phenomenon of limited significance’. Amplifying the reasons for his dramatic decision, Donnelly asserted that he had resolved to resign his party whip because of his ‘patriotism and principle . . . . I believe that Socialism in thirty years has given a higher standard of living and a fairer life for the British workman. The withdrawal from the Orient will strike directly at the British workman in exactly the same way as the refusal to see arms to South Africa’. He went further, contrasting the government’s decision to pull out of Singapore with Neville Chamberlain’s weak-kneed abandonment of Czechoslovakia shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. Donnelly declared that he felt sure that his local constituency party would ‘approve’ of his resigning the party whip, further protesting that his dramatic action as ‘only the beginning of the campaign’ to remove Harold Wilson as Prime Minister.7 His resignation had taken place five years to the very day since the death of the previous party leader Hugh Gaitskell. Initially it seemed that the Pembrokeshire Labour Party was prepared to rally behind their renegade, unpredictable MP. When the party met on 10 February, general support was voiced for Donnelly’s action, local agent Glyn Rees, a close personal friend and supporter of the MP, reporting ‘tremendous support for Mr Donnelly. . . . I have not had one word of criticism so far’ .8
This intriguing course of events moved along with some rapidity as Desmond Donnelly’s stand was evidently contributing substantially the growing anti-Harold Wilson bandwagon within the Labour Party. Writing in The Times on 1 February, Ian Trethowan detected that Donnelly enjoyed ‘a very special relationship with his local party’, but anticipated ‘a difficult local meeting’ due to take place ten days later. If their MP was still being denied the party whip at the time of the next general election, anticipated Trethowan, ‘the local party will either have to pick someone else more acceptable in Smith Square [the Labour Party headquarters], or else risk being disaffiliated and seeing a new local party created’ .9 Trethowan’s predictions were remarkably close to the mark. When the Pembrokeshire Labour Party’s county management committee met on 10 February, a motion instructing Donnelly to re-apply for restoration of the Labour whip was lost by 40 votes to 24.10 But the wayward MP for Pembrokeshire certainly had his enemies too, both at Westminster and in his constituency, especially at Pembroke Dock where twelve local trades union branches resolved to withhold their affiliation fees to the Labour Party ‘until a new candidate has been nominated’ instead of Donnelly to stand at the next general election .11 Action was also taken against him centrally where an attempt by the Labour Party NEC to expel Donnelly from the party, at the instigation of Harold Wilson , failed, ruled out-of order by the Labour Party chairman Alice Bacon. But it was resolved that a disciplinary panel comprising three prominent trades union leaders should investigate and report back to the Labour Party. Barbara Castle recorded these traumatic events in her diary: ‘The day started with an NEC meeting in which we had an illuminating discussion on the future of Mr. Desmond Donnelly. Nobody could hate him more than the left wing, but with an eye on their own fates [Ian] Mikardo and others were all for letting his misdemeanours ride for a bit. Jo Gormley and the right wing were thirsting for his immediate blood. Finally they were headed off by Alice Bacon’s suggestion that we ought to go through the usual routine of interviewing him first. The next argument was about who should interview him, and the general view was that it ought to be the Organization Sub Committee’. Desmond Donnelly defended himself vigorously, asserting his heartfelt belief that, since the October 1964 general election, many of the policies implemented by the Wilson government had been, in his view, ‘mistaken and would eventually bring the Labour Party into disrepute with the working man’. It was widely feared that, if Donnelly adamantly stuck to his guns and continued to receive the backing of his local party, eventually this ‘could mean both being cut adrift’. Eventually, the Labour Party would have no alternative, it was thought, but to ‘reconstitute’ the local party in Pembrokeshire ‘with loyal members’ .12
But there was to be no backing down. Donnelly met the disciplinary panel on 20 March, but refused to retract a single word of his previous attacks on the party and the Prime Minister, telling journalists immediately after the fraught meeting, ‘I don’t scare easily. I have retracted none of my views . I am doing what I consider right for my country, my county and my party. I shall not give in – never ‘. He claimed that four prominent Conservative politicians, two of them MPs and two former MPs, had voluntarily agreed to finance his next general election campaign in Pembrokeshire and to address his campaign meetings in the now quite likely event of his expulsion from the Labour Party – ‘I cannot say who they are but one of them is very well known’. Within a week the Labour Party NEC had indeed agreed, by an ‘overwhelming’ majority, to expel Desmond Donnelly from the party. Tremendous pressure had been exerted for Donnelly ‘s expulsion by prominent trades union leaders like Jo Gormley and Frank Chapple. He had no right of appeal against the decision of the party NEC, and it seemed highly unlikely that Harold Wilson would allow him the right to address the party’s annual conference in the autumn. Appearing gaily and confidently on radio and television programmes in the wake of these events, the MP for Pembrokeshire reacted defiantly, still pouring scorn on Harold Wilson , and anticipating the publication of his own monograph entitled Gadarene ’68, a harsh diatribe on the Wilson governments, due to appear on 29 April. 1 1 The next hurdle for him to face was a meeting of the Pembrokeshire Labour Party scheduled t o take place on 29 March when Donnelly again characteristically stubbornly refused to give an undertaking that he would apply in due course for the restoration of the Labour Party whip. (It was pointed out that, ever since the end of the Second World War, every single Labour M P who had been deprived of the party whip had eventually re-gained it before the next general election.) At a meeting of the party management committee, there was widespread support for Donnelly’s standpoint, local party agent Glyn Rees
asserting, ‘I cannot see anything being done to get rid of him from the local Labour Party. He has served us well for seventeen years!’ 14 It was notable that Pembroke Dock remained the bedrock of opposition to the MP; Cledwyn Nicholls, one of the Pembroke Dock delegates, described Donnelly’ s expulsion from the Labour Party as ‘the best thing that could have happened . We might as well have a Conservative to represent us’.15 Donnelly, a shrewd political operator, knew full-well that his retention of most Labour support within the constituency would be guaranteed if the county Labour Party resolved to disaffiliate from Transport House, and was delighted when a motion introduced at the 29 March meeting by the delegates from Transport House demanding that Donnelly re-apply for the Labour Party whip was rejected by 44 votes to 24. 16
As this bizarre course of events unfolded, the Pembrokeshire Conservative Party turned to the pressing task of choosing its parliamentary candidate for the next general election. Their choice soon fell on Roger Nicholas Edwards, a 34-year-old married man with two children , educated at Westminster School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he had graduated BA in history. Descended from a notable family of Welsh Anglicans (the first archbishop of Wales, A. G. Edwards, was his great-great uncle, as was Dean Edwards of Bangor) , he had served on national service with the Royal Welch Fusiliers from 1952 until 1954 when he had undertaken some of his military training at Castlemartin in Pembrokeshire. He also had family links within the county. At the time of his selection Edwards was the managing director of W. Brandt’s Sons and Co. (Insurance) Ltd and he was also a director of three other subsidiary companies as well as a member of Lloyds. He had travelled widely and had visited the USA, New Zealand , Australia, South Africa, Rhodesia as well as a large number of European countries. Nicholas Edwards had already taken a substantial part in parliamentary and local government elections and had played a prominent role in study groups responsible for the formulation of Conservative Party policies, especially on monopolies and restrictive practices. He was also heavily involved in educational matters as an experienced school manager and governor. 1 7
At his adoption meeting at Haverfordwest on 16 March 1 968, Nicholas Edwards hit out at Desmond Donnelly in a personal attack full of biting invective. Noting that Donnelly had recently attended a Monday Club meeting in the company of Duncan Sandys, Julian Amery and Patrick Wall – ‘strange bed-fellow s for a Socialist’ – he went on:
We can acknowledge that it was brave, but it revealed the great flaw in his position. While attacking the Government for its foreign and defence policy, Mr. Donnelly said: ‘I do not take back a single Socialist principle’ . Minutes before Mr. Sandys had declared to a thunderous applause that it was our duty ‘to cut the canker of Socialism right out of our system’; and in the speech that followed, Mr. Amery told us that there was a clear alternative to the Wilson foreign policy for Britain, and that was provided by the Conservative Party.
Here is a man who proclaim s his Socialism, but repudiates the policies of a Socialist Government. Here is a man who is blind to the fact that socialism has failed on the three occasions it has been tried , under three different leaders, because the system is wrong, and not the personality at its head . Here is a man who says he is a Socialist while putting forward the declared policies of hi s political opponents. Here is a man who, for all the words he has uttered , has for more than three years sustained the Government by his presence in the Labour Party, and by his failure to pass through the Opposition lobbies. For all his words he has not changed Government pol icy, and he will not change it. M r. Donnelly can not dodge the central dilemma: politics is about power and government.
During the same impassioned speech, Edwards assailed his rival as ‘an intellectual fence sitter who asks the people of Pembrokeshire to believe that a Cabinet of Donnelly’s will solve all Britain ‘s problems’. Concerning the Liberal Party he was equally dismissive – ‘all that is left are the pathetic lamentation s of a lost people ‘ – while Plaid Cymru, in his view, had become ‘inspired by hatred of the English rather than by love of Wales, and from that hatred springs its negative, inward looking character.
. . . How are they to attract capital when all they have to offer are snide remarks about the companies that have established here [ in Pembrokeshire] the nucleus of our prosperity ?’.18 Letters appeared in the local press in response to Nicholas Edwards’s powerful speech. Some or these at least, it is now clear, were drafted by Donnelly himself and published under false names. One such communication read as follows :
In the belief that Pembrokeshire should always be hospitable to newcomers, I read the report of Mr. Nicholas Edwards’ Conservative adoption meeting with great interest. However, I became more and more disappointed as I read on. At first I thought ‘Me1hi11ks he doth protest too much ‘. Then when h e came lo hi s wild attacks on Mr. Desmond Donnelly M P. I was astonished that this London gentleman should be so abusive and impertinent about someone who has served Pembrokeshire people of all parties so well and for so long. Why cannot he stick to his own policies’! By this time l had decided the local Tories had got another Farey-Jones but then Mr. Farey-Jones , for all his wild speeches, had a sense of humour. Mr. Edwards may have one but he has yet to show it.”,
On 6 April at its annual general meeting at Willie Jenkins House at Haverfordwest the Pembrokeshire Labour Party voted by 69 votes to one to disaffiliate from the Labour Party and thus effectively declared UDI and set out to establish its own organisation and membership structure. At around the same time Desmond Donnelly’s long anticipated volume Gadarene ’68, sub-titled The Crimes, Follies and Misfortunes of the Wilson Government, finally saw the light of day and immediately enjoyed impressive sales and publicity throughout the country. The renegade MP at once ebulliently announced a nationwide crusade ‘from John o’Groats to Land ‘s End’ to effect a transformation in government policy, and he appealed to other constituency associations to follow the bold lead of Pembrokeshire. It was anticipated that the Labour Party would soon take steps to establish a new Pembrokeshire DLP, and it was widely believed that a legal tussle over the local Labour headquarters and the local party’s funds, estimated to approach some £60,000, lay in prospect. Within days it was revealed that senior party mandarins had taken steps to attempt to freeze the bank accounts of the local Labour Party. 20 A week later Desmond Donnelly announced the setting up of a national campaign committee as a prelude to the eventual establ ishment of a new political party, the campaign to be launched in Scotland at the end of May on the lines of an American primary, then to hold meetings at all the big cities in England and Wales, concluding with a huge public demonstration at Harold Wilson’s Huyton constituency – ‘This could be a breakaway party from the Labour Party, and could embrace radical Conservatives and practical Liberals. . . . Many Labour supporters, middle-of-the-road people, and “open-minded Tories” were thinking as he was’. On 24 April the Labour Party NEC resolved lo suspend the local constituency organisation, re-establi sh ‘a local group loyal to the national party’ and set in train moves to select a new Labour cand idate for the next general election . Sara Barker, the Labour Party’s nation a l agent and acting general secretary, circulated all branches of affiliated trades unions within Pembrokeshire notifying them of their M P’s suspension from the Labour Party and the required reconstruction .21
There was a general welcome in Pembrokeshire for Nicholas Edwards’s candidalure. As one correspondent wrote in the local press, ‘The Conservatives have my full support. We must never forget that Mr. Donnelly is a dangerous Socialist. Even if it means splitting the vote and pulling in the Welsh Nationalist , the Pembrokeshire Conservatives are right to put party before else. The country must come second’ .22 Such sentiments were evidently widely shared throughout the county. The new Conservative candidate delivered a number of impressive public speeches, speaking on such issues as transport, race and immigration , industrial development, tourism, and subsidies to the fishing industry.23 Enoch Powell, the shadow minister for defence, spoke at a coffee reception at Haverfordwest arranged by the county Conservative Association at the end of March . He was highly critical of the Labour government’s Transport Bill , which was designed to force bulk transport off the roads to the advantage of the railways, and promised a new maritime forces set-up under a future Conservative govern ment.24
On 17 May the funds of the Pembrokeshire Labour Party were frozen in the High Court (apart from routine administrative outgoi ngs) pending hearing of legal proceedings over the party’s future. It was announced that the party would be reconstituted at a meeting of delegates on 22 J une.25 During the middle of May significant numbers of local Labour Party members went over to the new local Labour Party set up by the party ‘s NEC. Much to Donnelly’s chagrin, there were large numbers of defectors at Fishguard, St Davids, Pembroke, N eyland , Haverfordwest and Tenby. Transport House began to send individual communications to Labour Party members i n the county as a means of winning over their support and demanding conformity to the constitution of the Labour Party, while on the last day of the month in the local press, Desmond Donnelly published the manifesto of his embryonic new party. Just days later, speaking at Col chester, Donnelly savaged the Prime Minister’s policy towards Rhodesia which, he asserted, had ‘deservedly earned him the “political dunce’s” cap for 1968’.26 A long, unpleasant legal battle seemed in prospect during the high summer of 1 968 as Labour Party national organisers continued their efforts to reconstitute the local party in Pembrokeshire, and, at the meeting which took place on 22 June, which about 100 delegates attended (all of these opposed to Desmond Donnelly), Cecil John, an elderly local school master, was confirmed as the president of the new Pembrokeshire CLP and a completely new executive committee was chosen. At this meeting
Cecil John noted that thirteen local parties had been reconstituted , seventeen local trades union branches had pledged their full support to the new party, and that the party had the backing of about 3000 Pembroke shire people.27
At the hearing which took place at the High Court in London from 10 July, Mr Justice Megarry was told by Mr Charles Sparrow QC, representing Cecil John, the former president of the Pembrokeshire CLP, that Desmond Donnelly was a ‘self-proclaimed rebel of the Labour Party who started a country-wide crusade to start a new opposition party. His idea seems to have been to harness to the crusade funds contributed by the Pembrokeshire people to the Labour Party. The funds were to become the war chest of the new one-man party. Mr. Donnelly announced that he had decided to declare his own UDI’. Cecil John meanwhile was ‘one of [the local Labour Party’s] elder senators and keeper of the party’s conscience’. Sparrow described to the court in some detail the uproar which had ensued at the infamous local party meeting on 6 April and lengthy exchanges ensued with passions rising on both sides. When Donnelly’s wife Mrs Rosemary Donnelly returned home after attending court, she found a telegram summoning her to appear before a special committee of the Labour Party to explain her apparent refusal to make a declaration of loyalty to the party. She commented, ‘Behind it they were trying to get me to agree not to support my husband any longer. I wrote back and said I wished to give my support to my husband’. Two days later she responded angrily to an apparent threat by the party NEC to expel her and a further thirty of her husband’s supporters unless they signed an undertaking of loyalty to the Labour Party – ‘How can one be a member of a radical party, a party of change, if one is asked to sign a declaration representative of stagnation?’. Donnelly’s local agent Glyn Rees dismissed the imperious attitude of Transport House as ‘taking things right back to the days of the jackboot’ . All thirty Donnelly supporters were soon to receive a registered letter warning them bluntly of the threat to expel them forthwith from the party.28
As this dramatic course of events unfolded , both at London and in Pembrokeshire , there were criticisms in some quarters that Nicholas Edwards was not participating actively in the life of the county where he was to stand for parliament. In July, however, he revealed the results of the detailed study which he had taken into the question of the unemployed in Pembrokeshire. His conclusion was that some of those without work were ‘genuine victims’ of unkind circumstances, but that there were others whom he labelled ‘the phoneys – people who prefer to live on a combination of casual labour and their unemployment benefits’ , and he rightly castigated those ‘idle men living off the backs of those who work’ .29 During the same month Edwards won general commendation for putting in an appearance at the Royal Welsh Show at Builth Wells (where he turned up in the company of party leader Ted Heath, David Gibson-Watt, the Tory spokesman on Welsh affairs, and Sir Raymond Gower, the Conservative MP for Barry) and visited the stands of the NFU and the FUW on the showground. He also spoke out repeatedly against the proposal that Pembrokeshire should me submerged into the huge county of Dyfed at the time of local government reorganisation . The proposed new county gave ‘every sign of having been invented in the minds of politicians and bureaucrats who [had] never been closer to West Wales than a small scale map’. During the high summer of 1968 Nicholas Edwards (possibly responding to repeated criticism that he had rarely been seen in the county since his nomination in March) adopted a notably high profile within the constituency, visiting many areas, fulfilling an array of official engagements, and turning up at many old people’s homes, hospitals and schools throughout Pembrokeshire. He also threw his weight behind the preservation of Withybush Hospital at Haverfordwest, protesting that seriously ill folk could not tolerate the long journey to Glangwili Hospital, Carmarthen and were currently having to endure an exceptionally long wait before being seen by a consultant. Edwards also pressed for improved transport links in Wales and welcomed warmly the recent reduction in the voting age to eighteen.’30
During October it was announced that party leader Ted Heath was likely to visit Pembrokeshire, probably speaking at Haverford west, and other south Wales venues at the end of November. It was widely assumed that the Conservatives now sensed the scent of victory in the county as a result of Desmond Donnelly’s expulsion from the Labour Party and his subsequent formation of a new political party. They saw Donnelly as ‘a tough nut to crack’, and it was anticipated that ‘the star men of both major parties’ would visit Pembrokeshire ‘to try and unseat the dauntless Desmond. Our county will become the cock-pit of the country’ .31 There were some who forecast that Donnelly might well himself stand as a Conservative candidate at some point in the future – following his likely defeat in Pembrokeshire at the next general election (a prediction uncannily close to the mark). But it was by no means certain that Donnelly would be defeated in the county where he clearly enjoyed a substantial personal following and potentially a strong personal vote. At the 6 April meeting Glyn Rees had spoken out – ‘A fact that must now be realised is that the votes cast for Labour at each general election in Pembrokeshire are not really Labour votes, but Donnelly votes. The seat in Pembrokeshire has been retained for Labour against very strong opposition largely, if not entirely, through Mr Donnelly’s personal hard work and triumph and the help of a small group of hardworking supporters. It is estimated today through public opinion that Mr Donnelly holds a personal following of anything between 15,000 to 20,000 supporters’ .32 During the summer the Western Telegraph conducted a detailed opinion poll of 1,000 individuals throughout Pembroke shire, a poll which suggested that Donnelly was likely to be re-elected in the county with a majority of some 7000 votes. The detailed figures were: Donnelly 40.2 per cent; Conservative 27.4 per cent; Labour 13.4 per cent; Plaid Cymru 12.3 per cent; Liberal 4.1 per cent; and ‘undecided ‘ 2.6 per cent. In the report detailed figures were given for each part of the county. The official Labour Party was apparently being dismissed by many in the county as ‘Transport House Socialists’.” Donnelly himself, with his customary bravado, publicly forecast that he would easily hold Pembroke shire at the general election with a majority of 10,000 votes.34
There was considerable consternation within the Pembrokeshire Conservative Association in September when it was discovered that Desmond Donnelly had received and accepted an invitation to address a meeting of the Barry Conservative Association. Representations were made by the Pembrokeshire group, but were simply ignored. As the local secretary wrote to the party’s central office in Wales, ‘. . . Knowing the way the “guest speaker” works, I am sure Pembrokeshire will suffer – not only will a press report of the speech appear (probably stating what a rapturous reception he received from Conservatives) in our local press, but our supporters will be hurt in one sense and furious in another ‘ . He enclosed a press cutting of a Young Conservative meeting which Donnelly had recently addressed at Chelsea – ‘It is not what he says that matters so much as the impression he creates that he is “well in” with the Conservatives’. Donnelly ‘s conduct was clearly causing the Pembrokeshire Conservative Association considerable discomfiture and embarrassment , and it was known that Nicholas Edwards had appealed to his associates at Barry not to invite Donnelly. ”
In October the Donnelly camp received a welcome boost with the high court judgement that the officers elected by the Donnelly party at its meeting on 6 April had been properly chosen. Further, it was ruled that the funds and possessions of the party belonged to the Donnelly group.36 This rather unexpected outcome caused attitudes to harden on all sides. When George Thomas, formerly a close personal friend of Desmond Donnelly’s, now the recently appointed Secretary of State for Wales, spoke at Haverfordwest at the end of October, he launched a sharp attack on Donnelly’s ‘wild outbursts’ and vigorously defended Harold Wilson .37 As the autumn ran its course, Nick Edwards and the Conservative Party machine clearly stepped up its campaign in Pembrokeshire. At the party conference convened at Blackpool in October, Edwards delivered an important, widely reported speech on the problems of the constituency and the urgent need for the government to devote resources to the development of an improved transport system: ‘The old industries are fading away and the employment prospects of many depended upon Government establishments that are threatened with closure. We now have the greatest oil port in the United Kingdom [in Milford Haven], but it is highly automated and employs few. The industrial complex that should go with it will remain a dream until we have a government which will recognise that the greatest single contribution they can make to the prosperity of many of the development areas is an adequate transport system ‘. In this speech he drew attention to the unusually high unemployment levels within Pembrokeshire and the very poor prospects of future employment – unless the government acted.38 Shortly afterwards, the Conservative candidate pressed government departments for an assurance that the projected concorde test flights over west Wales would not pose a threat to historic buildings like the St David ‘s Cathedral.
A major political meeting was then convened at the Fishguard Bay Hotel on 9 November – to be addressed by Nick Edwards, David Gibson-Watt (as the Conservative spokesman on Welsh affairs) and David George (the Conservative candidate for Cardiganshire). Gibson-Watt, who experienced severe difficulties with the local railway service in reaching the remote constituency (eventually arriving at Pembroke Dock instead of Haverford west as originally planned!), urged caution over further devolutionary concessions for Wales: ‘The future well-being of Wales stands or falls on whether the United Kingdom as a whole can surmount its difficulties ‘. In response to current government plans to give the Secretary of State for Wales responsibility for health and agriculture within the principality, Gibson-Watt spoke out, ‘Let nobody blind himself to where all this may eventually lead us in Wales. The Welsh Nationalists want a Welsh Parliament and economic separation’. At the same conference Edwards under lined his party’s commitment to increasing the defence budget.39 On 13 November the prospective candidate addressed the Pembrokeshire Young Farmers on the difficulties facing agricultural communities and in support of the decision that the voting age in parliamentary elections should be reduced to eighteen years. Party leader Ted Heath visited the county on 29 November, travelling there by overnight sleeper from London, and attending functions at Milford Haven and Haverfordwest before departing for Carmarthen in the afternoon. To an audience exceeding four hundred of the party faithful who nibbled chicken legs and sipped white wine at the Market Hall, Haverfordwest, the Tory leader declared that the county would certainly fall to the Conservatives at the next general election, along with many other Welsh seats – ‘As the result of research we have come to the conclusion that there is now an opportunity, as never before, to gain almost half the votes of the people of Wales at the next election . We now have new voters ready to turn to our cause when the general election comes’ . Heath also spoke out against the growing swirl of devolutionary demands: ‘The prosperity of Wales will always depend upon the prosperity of the United Kingdom as a whole. We can none of us cut ourselves off from the others without damaging each other, and this applies to all parts of the United Kingdom . The first task of any Government must be to produce good government for the whole of Britain’ . The day after the visit to the county, the Tory leader wrote to Nick Edwards, ‘I shall look forward to seeing you in the next House of Commons’ .40
The Conservative pre-election campaign in Pembrokeshire rapidly gathered momentum. Within a week of Ted Heath’s visit, a party rally and bazaar at Haverfordwest was addressed by Sir Ted Leather, the party’s vice chairman, well-known nationally as a regular panellist on the BBC radio programme ‘Any Questions’ .41 It was agreed on all sides that the result of the next general election remained wide-open partly as a result of the ‘massive floating vote’ within the county and the unknown impact of the split Labour vote there. There remained, it was thought, a substantial body of ‘undecided Socialists who have still to decide whether to back the breakaway Desmond Donnelly or the pro-Wilson Transport House Brigade’. A further poll undertaken by Western Telegraph reporters at the end of the year revealed a quite dramatic change in the voting intentions of the county’s electorate: Conservatives 36.1 per cent; Desmond Donnelly 28 per cent; Official Labour 1 2.5 per cent; Plaid Cymru 7.8 per cent ; Liberal Party 5.7 per cent; and ‘Don ‘t know ‘, 9.9 per cent. At the time opinion polls conducted throughout the UK were revealing a dramatic swing of some 20 per cent to the Conservatives. Within Pembrokeshire the swing was rather less, but still significant, while Desmond Donnelly still enjoyed ‘an amazing personal following’ within the county whose impact was very much an unknown quantity.42 Right at the end of this extraordinary year, Desmond Donnelly did make an attempt to reach some kind of agreement with the Labour Party nationally, but his tentative olive branch was contemptuously swept aside by Transport House which doggedly resolved to press on with its investigation into the affairs of the constituency Labour Party. On 9 January 1969 the secretaries of all the local Labour Parties in Pembrokeshire were informed by Sara Barker that they were to be summoned before the party’s NEC individually for questioning and the possibility that they might well then be expelled from the Labour Party. Rosemary Donnelly was indeed expelled from the party at the beginning of February, and she then lost her Goodwick seat at the subsequent local government elections.43
But the Desmond Donnelly crusade attracted a considerable amount of interest and publicity across the globe – even in such remote places as Hong Kong and New Zealand where newspapers carried reports on his activities and progress.44 He clearly enjoyed a fair measure of sympathy and support, but many spoke out against hi m too. There were some in Pembrokeshire who, with some justification, depicted Donnelly as an MP who ‘had no mandate ‘ from his constituents to remain in the House of Commons. One correspondent noted in the columns of the local press, ‘A continuation of abusive remarks which have now reached the border of scurrility will not improve the image of our M.P. in his attacks on Mr. Wilson. On the contrary, it is a serious blow to the prestige and popularity he has had in the County for many years’ .45 The reformed county Labour Party was in very serious difficulties. Early in 1969 Glyn Rees, the local party agent, had written to Sara Barker to inform her that the party had an overdraft of over £2000 at Lloyds Bank, Haverfordwest, and that there were further debts owed to the Midland Bank, Milford Haven which was pressing for repayment. Such was the severity of the local party’s finances that it seriously considered disposing of its headquarters Wille Jenkins House at 61 and 62 Dew Street, Haverfordwest, a suggestion which provoked an angry reaction from the local party membership. Further indignation was caused by the fact that both Glyn Rees and his nominated deputy had failed to turn up at party meetings convened early in the new year, and by the ongoing proceedings of the NEC investigating committee. At a meeting in January, one of the delegates present asserted, ‘There was a lot of money in the party up to the time of the split, and it was often said that there were sufficient funds for Desmond Donnelly to finance an election every six months. What has happened to it all now ?’. It was noted that the party ‘s balance sheet for the year 1967 had shown an excess of income over expenditure of £600 ‘which was quite healthy ‘.46
It was widely anticipated that, in consequence of this course of events, Nicholas Edwards stood a very good chance of capturing the Pembroke shire constituency. By March it seemed that at least five candidates would contest the next general election in Pembrokeshire as the county Liberal Party announced the adoption of Alan Coulthard, a 45-year-old Swansea
barrister who had already stood in the county in the October 1 964 general election when he had polled a fairly impressive total of 9679 votes.47 Wynne Samuel, the Plaid Cymru aspirant, had already been adopted some months earlier and had been nursing the constituency assiduously in the meantime, and the Labour Party, too, had chosen Gordon Parry to stand in the constituency. In the middle of March, Donnelly wrote a little glumly to his friend Sir Roy Welensky , the former Prime Minister of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland , ‘I am feeling a little grim at the moment. The Liberals have now gone and adopted a candidate against me in Pembroke as well, which is not good. This means we shall have Conservative, Labour, Welsh Nationalist , Liberals and me. If I can beat that lot, I can climb Mount Everest’.48 Possibly he sensed that his fate was scaled by the decision of the Liberals (which whom he had had genuine hopes of forming some kind of electoral alliance in the county and possibly beyond) to put up a candidate against hi m. Meanwhile Desmond Donnelly ‘s own behaviour was growing increasingly bizarre and indeed unpredictable. At the Brighton Pavilion by-election , due to take place on 24 March, he gave his full backing to Julian Amery, the Conservative candidate, with whom he had apparently formed a very close bond of fnendsh1p. Shortly afterwards, he gave an impassioned address to a packed meeting of the Chelsea Conservative Political Centre during the course of which a man at the back of the hall demanded, ‘Why are you not a Tory?’ , to which Donnelly relied at once, ‘Because my duty is to the ordinary common people of Pembrokeshire and to Britain as a whole, not to a sall group of Home Guard colonels’, a response which surprisingly gave rise to loud cheers from the Tory faithful present at the meeting. Within the Labour Party he was now regarded as an outright traitor. Before the end of the month, amidst recurrent rumours that the wayward MP was on the point of .setting up his own independent political party, he suffered a real body-blow when fourteen prominent members of the Milford Haven Labour Party, previously among Donnelly’s staunchest supporters, announced their resignations and readiness to back the party’s NEC and national constitution.49 By this time it was rumoured that, although the Pembrokeshire CLP had some £50,000 worth of material assets, it was still in debt to the tune of about £14,000.50
On the first day of the month the three officials – the president, secretary and treasurer – of the Pembrokeshire Labour Party which supported Desmond Donnelly had announced their resignations from the Labour Party, as did fourteen members of the twenty-four strong committee, among them Rosemary Donnelly. One of their number was Glyn Rees, who had been secretary and agent to the party ever since 1955 and was extremely well-known in political circles throughout the county. In the words of the local press, ‘What started as a small crack in the surface unity of the local Labour party has gradually widened to become a major split … and now, finally, a complete division’ .51 It was now abundantly clear that there could never be any real reconciliation between Desmond Donnelly and the official Labour Party. Donnelly’s new party was indeed launched at a Haverfordwest hotel (significantly a location within the Pembrokeshire constituency rather than at Westminster) on 8 April 1969 to a large gathering of national journalists and television cameras. From the outset, although it was agreed that the timing of the launch and the delivery of Desmond Donnelly’s inaugural speech were auspicious, it was widely felt that the new party had but little prospect of making any significant long-term impression upon ·the course of British political life and that the new Donnelly party did not have a distinguishable enough political platform and policies. To a large extent his political standpoint seemed remarkably close to that of the Conservatives, and an Edwards victory now seemed ever more likely in Pembrokeshire. Donnelly was himself also stirring the political waters with his articles in the News of the World which claimed that a general election was likely in the autumn as was a change of party leader.52 In an impressive speech at the AGM of the Pembrokeshire Conservative Association in April 1969, Nick Edwards assailed each of the other candidates in turn, reserving the following attack for Desmond Donnelly: ‘We have been told that soon Mr. Donnelly is going to tell us his plans for the future and what he stands for. I know what it will be – an attempt to retain Socialist votes with Conservative principles. Recently Mr. Donnelly wrote about the sensitivity of certain politicians to TV and press criticism; basically it stems from a desire to pull their own publicity strings and present themselves as big men – well the cap fits ‘. Alan Coulthard regarded Edwards’s peroration and claims of assured victory as ‘a little pathetic’ , and asserted that there were, in reality, now two Conservative candidates standing in Pembrokeshire. Desmond Donnelly, Coulthard described as ‘that new pillar of the right ‘, who had openly supported the candidature and policies of Julian Amery – a figure notoriously on the extreme right wing of the Conservative Party. and a man already spoken of as a successor to the hapless Mr. Heath ‘ 53
But Donnelly pressed ahead with the development of his n new party, by now christened the United Democrats, holding a formal foundation conference, again at Haverfordwest, at the end of May, and proclaiming ambitious plans to put up some thirty -six party candidates at the forthcoming general election , seven of these in Welsh seats, while each of the three three party leaders was to be opposed by Donnelly candidates and a candidate was also to be put up at the pending by-election at Newcastle-under-Lyme due to be held in the autumn . Donnelly announced with characteristic bravado at the Haverforwest launch conference, ‘Some fifty people have come forward as parliamentary candidates. Our greatest needs are money and time. If we have enough time, and Mr Wilson does not run out on his job, we hope to put something like thirty to forty candidates in different parts of Britain ‘. Warming to his theme, he went on, ‘Our challenge is to bring about a new alignment altogether in British politics. Our appeal is to all those who may have voted Tory, Liberal or Labour in the past, but who now see our nation is in rapid decline’. He underlined the fact repeatedly that it was the new party’s firm intention to put up a candidate against the Prime Minister in his Huyton constituency
– ‘We have a retired judge who is a very distinguished man of great dignity to fight there, and he may well have to don his black cap for M r. Wilson’ .54 (This was presumably a reference to Mr Gerald Sparrow, the former Bangkok judge, who was then 66 years of age.)
The published manifesto of the new party advocated the near-abolition of the welfare state, a massive reduction in public spending of some 75 per cent over the next quinquennium , substantial tax cuts, the denationalisation of British industries, a major reduction in the scope of the civil service, the removal of governmental controls on prices and incomes (thus allowing substantial increases in the cost of basic commodities), and a reduction in the number of MPs from 630 to 250. As the functions of central govern ment were thus much curtailed, the role of local councils would be considerably enhanced to carry a substantial additional work-load . Donnelly’ s avowed objectives were to transform a constituency organisation into a national movement by forming new constituency parties at the rate of two per month , and to amass a political war-chest in excess of £1 million within the next five years. Most political commentators responded by doubting the prospects of success for the new party, but in the Sunday Teleraph eminent historian and writer Robert Skidelsky hailed Desmond Donnelly as ‘a brave man who has made a brave dash for freedom . . . . We should not despise the logic that drove him to it’ .55 Nicholas Edwards was predictably far less charitable towards his political rival. Within a week of the official launch meeting of the new party at Haverfordwest, Edwards stood on the very same platform and compared Donnelly ‘s ill-fated efforts to win power with those of Winnie the Pooh to reach the ‘honey ‘: ‘The Labour Party will be with us long after Mr. Donnelly ‘s vainglorious escapade is forgotten, because for all its shortcomings it represents ideals und common interests which are not to be found among Donnelly ‘s casual collection of political dropouts or in his extraordinary and entirely artificial mixture of ideas from opposite ends of the political spectrum. United and Democratic? We shall see!’. Edwards was clearly especially well informed about the Democratic Party foundation conference, stating that of the 212 chairs placed in the Masonic Hall for the potentially high profile occasion, only about 150 had been taken, out of which only some 100 were Pembrokeshire folk prepared to turn out to salute ‘their hero’, while the proceedings overall, claimed Edwards, had been characterised by a profound ‘sense of anti-climax’ – ‘The most remarkable thing about the meeting was not the poor attendance, but the complete absence – even of a verbal message – from a single figure of national distinction from our political and public life’. He continued:
Over a year after announcing his intention of forming a new party, after an unparalleled campaign of self-advertisement, in spite of an enormous public relations exercise, this was all that Mr. Donnelly could offer. A year ago we were told that three well-k n own – but nameless – politicians were about lo declare their support for Mr. Donnelly. We have heard nothing of them since. Now a retired – but, or course, nameless – High Court Judge is apparently to devote his old age to this noble cause. Thirty-eight – but faceless – candidates are to offer themselves as a sacrifice on the altar of Mr. Donnelly’s ambition, after being vetted – and how appropriately – by a former member of the Secret Service. In the shadows, we are told, a large, but anonymous part of the Parliamentary Labour Party is merely biding its time before declaring itself ready to abolish the Welfare State.56
By August it was clear that an intensive five candidate election campaign lay in prospect in Pembrokeshire, a feature widely noted in the national press.57 On 20 September, at a very enthusiastic meeting convened at Willie Jenkins House, the county Labour Party considered an impressive short-list of six potential candidates of whom the favourite – Gordon Parry, a 43-year-old schoolmaster from Neyland – was eventually chosen by an overwhelming majority of the delegates as candidate, In previous years Parry had been a staunch supporter of Desmond Donnelly’s in the county; now, perversely, they were to be electoral opponents.58 Although in his heart of hearts Desmond Donnelly must have known that his prospects of electoral success were inevitably remote in a five cornered contest, in public his optimism continued: ‘Our aim in the next general election is 27-28,000 votes’, he told the September quarterly meeting of the Democrats at the Mariners Hotel, Haverfordwest, ‘The Liberal candidate will lose his deposit, with ignominy. The Welsh Nationalist will do likewise. And the Wilsonite Labour man will either just save or just lose his deposit. I am not minimising the task ahead. But we can beat the lot put together. And we have one advantage, one priceless advantage – the Conservative candidate himself (loud laughter and applause)’. He then went on to discuss at length the serious unemployment problem facing Pembrokeshire and anticipated keenly the impending by-election at Newcastle-under-Lyne where a Democrat candidate was to stand for the first time – ‘The Newcastle-under-Lyne by-election is the first test and the Common Market will be an issue. Never mind the polls, this is the first time that people will have the chance actually to vote for a candidate who is not pledged to be lobby fodder for the Common Market like the other three’. He boldly anticipated that Democrat divisional parties were about to be formed in constituencies throughout the country, and welcomed to the meeting delegations from Birmingham and Coventry who, he claimed, sought to emulate the example of Pembrokeshire. 59
Donnelly’s optimism in relation to Newcastle-under-Lyne was misplaced as David Parker, the Democrat candidate, polled just 1699 votes, about three per cent of those cast, and, at another by-election in the Louth division of Lincolnshire a little later the Democrat polled no more than 1225 votes (4.3 per cent). Both candidates easily lost their deposits, but at least some interest in the cause had been created, and the campaign in Pembrokeshire continued.60 Gordon Parry alleged that Donnelly had even received a message wishing him well from Ted Heath, while Donnelly himself liked to boast that his new party was receiving generous donations from Conservative, Liberal and Labour supporters, including from Sir John Wedgwood, the former deputy chairman of Josiah Wedgwood Ltd.61 The Young Conservative group at Haverfordwest even invited Desmond Donnelly to elucidate his policies at a public meeting – until the county Conservative Association got wind of the invitation and it was promptly withdrawn. 62 The Labour campaign in Pembrokeshire was clearly gathering momentum too. At the Labour Party annual conference in October Gordon Parry was given a very warm reception. As he walked to the microphone to address the conference, Jim Callaghan, the home secretary, called out, ‘Come on, Gordon, you can win Pembroke!’. In a cogent address to the delegates, Parry told them that, during the previous two years, ‘Pembrokeshire had been engaged in fighting off a bid for personal power’ .63
On the last day of 1969 one local newspaper hailed the recent formation of ‘a new political party with positive, identifiable and attractive policies appealing to the mass of the uncommitted middle class’ and anticipated that Donnelly’s Democratic party might well make some impact at the next general election.64 But, as 1970 dawned, Desmond Donnelly himself clearly realised that his prospects even of retaining Pembrokeshire were slim indeed. The pro-Labour vote would inevitably be split in Pembroke shire, possibly allowing a Conservative victory at the polls. Nicholas Edwards had proved himself a doughty campaigner in the county ever since his nomination, making lavish promises to rescue the county’s rail links and to being new jobs to the area, and consistently making vitriolic personal attacks on Desmond Donnelly in his many public speeches. He had also become actively involved in the local campaign to save the naval air base at Brawdy.65 Moreover, Donnelly’s good name was inevitably somewhat tarnished by the civil war which had waged throughout the previous two years. Intense speculation ensued on the precise date of the next general election as The Times asserted at the end of February that Donnelly’s spirited bid to retain Pembrokeshire had ‘all the markings of first class, and fierce, farce’ .66 There was conjecture that Donnelly had offered to withdraw the Democrat candidate at Newcastle-under-Lyme in return for an undertaking that Nichola s Edwards might stand down in Pembrokeshire. Bill Weale, the Conservative agent in Pembrokeshire, commented, ‘Needless to say, this last-ditch effort to save his own skin was as fruitless as all his other ventures to prove he is God’s gift to the luckless electors. He is obviously a worried man ‘.67 Talk of possible electoral pacts and deals between the Conservatives and the Democrats persisted for months, and there was even conjecture about direct talks between Desmond Donnelly and Ted Heath on such matters . Donnelly’s close friendship with right-wing Conservative MP J ulian Amery was often mentioned (both shared very similar anti-Labour and indeed anti-Wilson viewpoints), and it was widely known that Desmond Donnelly was well acquainted with two former Conservative Prime Mini sters Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan. At a University of Wales Air Squadron dinner held at St Athan in mid-M arch, Julian Amery, the secretary of state for air in the last Conservative government and the son-i n-l aw of Harold Macmillan , had lavished praise on Donnelly, ‘I want to say what a privilege it is to share this table with my friend and colleague Desmond Donnelly. It is very rare in public life that a political figure has the courage to stand for principle and nation before any thought of personal self interest, and I am privileged to be here with Mr. Desmond Donnelly because of what he had done and is seeking to do for the defences of Britain (applause) . We have been on opposite sides of the House in the past, but we have always been friends and colleagues’. It was generally agreed that, by speaking out in this way, Amery, viewed as ‘one of Britain ‘s leading Conservatives’ , had deliberately ‘cold-shouldered ‘ Nicholas Edwards, his own party ‘s candidate in Pembrokeshire, as he went on: ‘It is a well known fact and I make it no secret that I can not understand why my political party should be opposing Mr. Donnelly in his constituency and I know how I would vote if l were an elector in Pembrokeshire’. 68
On 16 February the Democratic Party published a detailed sixteen-page policy statement – ‘The objective is to save a sinking nation ‘. A mong its many proposals were a tough stance on ‘permissiveness ‘ – ‘Rome fell because of its permissive society. Britain’s permi ssive society is rotting the soul of the nation’. It consequently advocated raising the moral standards of television and radio programmes and newspaper s, a harder line on drug taking , and a rigorous review of the laws on abortion, homosexuality and divorce. Other policies included heavier penalties for convicted criminals, a re-assessment of capital punishment, and consideration of the introduction of corporal punishment. Income tax was to be cut to a flat rate of five shillings in the pound , while those earning less than £2000 per annum were to be exempt from the payment of income tax . An added-value tax was to be introduced , support for industry, and a clamp down on the trades unions and on immigration, together with a slimming-down of the civil service, and an increase in Britain’s defence commitments. 69 It was a notably right-wing agenda which immediately did have its supporters, indeed admirers, but it was also widely felt that there was also an element of ‘something for everyone’ in its contents. Most commentators agreed that the manifesto presented ‘a picture of an Utopia which the Democrats will never be given the chance to provide’. The proposals concerning taxation were considered bizarre and incapable of implementation , while surprise was voiced at the failure to discuss Britain and the EEC, a burning i ssue in 1970. 70 The same month – Feb ruary 1 970 – saw a widely reported political meeting at Haverfordwest addressed by Jim Callaghan, the home secretary, at a ti me of major dis enchantment among the county ‘s farming communities. Other political big guns, too, came to the remote constituency, including Michael Heseltine, the Conservative spokesman on transport, Edward Short, Cledwyn Hughes (a former secretary of state for Wales), and Mrs Barbara Castle, the secretary of state for employment and productivity. Mrs Castle told a Labour Party meeting at Haverfordwest that Donnelly ‘fell by the wayside when the going got tough. He should be repudiated for repudiating Socialism ‘. At a Democratic Party conference at Saundersfoot a week later, Desmond Donnelly retaliated sharply by asserting that Barbara Castle had ‘lied and cringed’ over trades union legislation the previous year.71 At the same conference he warned his followers against setting their sights too high. Early bravado about putting up a large number of Democrat Party candidates at the general election had by now largely dis appeared: ‘I would rather run ten candidates well than twenty indifferently. We have too many action stations. We have got to decide what constituencies we are going to fight. Do not let us set our sights too high ‘.72 The influx of Labour heavweight politicians into the constituency during the. re-elect10n and elect10n campaigns was often commented upon in political columns. Commentators attributed their anxiety to visit Pembrokeshire to the fact that Transport House now considered the seat ‘winnable’ and to Donnelly’s general lack of popularity among his former colleagues in the Labour fold.
An enterprising opinion poll conducted by the Western Telegraph in ten areas of Pembrokeshire at the end of March revealed the following trend: Labour 30.9 per cent, Conservative 29.3 per cent, and Democrat 24.7 per cent.73 Desmond Donnelly’s own predictions were predictably more favourable to the Democrat cause. During April there was a great deal of speculat10n about other Democrat election candidates in various parts of the country. Peter Hancock , the president of the Democratic Party in Pembrokeshire, announced that he would seek the nomination for Carmarthenshire, but this eventually came to nothing .74 Noel Armstrong, a Norwich solicitor, announced that he would stand at Norwich South as a Democratic Party candidate rather than as an independent as he had originally intended.75 Press columnists noted that Desmond Donnelly’s close rapport with Woodrow Wyatt, the Labour MP for the Bosworth division and previously a political soul-mate, had conspicuously come to an abrupt end since Donnelly had been expelled from the Labour Party.76 In his own diary entry in the middle of the month Donnelly himself wrote, ‘I think Heath will win. Some do not. The public do not like him enough’ .77 He was convinced that a general election was imminent, even though the Labour government did not have to go to the country until the spring of 1971. As Donnelly wrote to his friend Dean Acheson, a former secretary of state in the United States, ‘The clue is Harold Wilson’s indiscreet remark, “Always remember I am still young enough to be P.M. for another five years after 1974-75” ‘.78 Just ten days later he wrote to Acheson again, ‘I am sitting writing this in bed at 7.30 am in a hotel in Reading – where I am a conference of Democratic Party candidates. In the last week I have spent three nights on trains, driving myself about 650 miles on British roads – and can confirm Chesterton’s rolling English roads! And made several – I cannot remember how many – speeches. There are easier ways of earning a living’ . Anticipating the likely date of the general election, he went on, ‘I am pretty sure we will hold in Pembroke. I have one or two other startling possibilities. When and if they are nearer to fruition, I will tell you’. In an addendum to this very long letter, Donnelly wrote, ‘An opinion poll with 1,000 sample in a 70,000 electorate in Pembrokeshire says: DD 20,500; Labour 19,800 (cannot be right); Tory 18,800 (about right); Nationalist 2,500 (I’d say a little more drawn from Lab); Liberals 1,650 (man now packed up). Rosemary [Donnelly, his wife], Glyn Rees (my agent) and Peter Hancock (my President) all returned unopposed to the Pembrokeshire County Council. Six other Democrat gains locally’ .79
During the June 1970 election campaign Desmond Donnelly gave priority to transport issues, law and order, welfare questions and defence. He caused ripples at Westminster at the beginning of May when he summoned a press conference at the House of Commons to demand the appointment of a new editor of The Times to replace William Rees-Mogg on the grounds that, during recent months, the newspaper ‘had pursued policies contrary to the British national interest ‘. It soon emerged that the real reason for Donnelly’s grouse was that the paper had refused to publish an advertisement for the Democratic Party on 15 April without some amendment of its contents – ‘I think that the editor was imposing censorship, and that this was impertinent’ .80 At around the same time he wrote to Sir Roy Welensky :
Since I wrote life has been one hell of a mad rush. On March 14, when I was speaking at the University of Wales Air Squadron Dinner at St. Athan, I was dragged out to be told by my Intelligence that the General Election was July 2 or 9. And bang on! Since then everything has had to go by the board, including friendships, almost. . . . I have been getting up at 2, 3 or 4 am. This letter is being written at 6 a.m. Anyway the situation is as follows. I shall hold Pembroke. The tide has turned, definitely. It is my eighth general election as a candidate and ninth if I throw in a by-election too. And I sense it without false optimism. In the country it is going to be a damn close run thing. Wilson could win. Repeat: he may win. The public do not like Heath.81
Before the end of the month, Welensky, clearly aware of the very real danger that Donnelly might reduce his chances of success in Pembroke shire by giving overmuch support to the other Democrat candidates scattered across the country, warned him kindly, ‘. . . I sincerely hope you will take my advice and concentrate on winning your own seat. You will of course help your candidates, but remember that, if you are defeated, it will be the end of the Party and I think, if this can be avoided, it is vital that it should be’ .82 Soon it was announced that the general election was to take place on 18 June 1970, and the local press i n Pembrokeshire revealed that the local contest was ‘neck and neck’ and published the following odds on the outcome of the election: Desmond Donnelly 5 to 2; Nicholas Edwards 4 to 5 favourite; Gordon Parry 5 to 4; and Wynne Samuel the 100 to 1 outsider. As it was widely felt that the traditional Liberal vote in the constituency had simply disintegrated, those with Liberal sympathies were encouraged to vote for their second choice candidate. At the eleventh hour there was a switch in the Liberal candidate.83 Following the withdrawal of Alan Coulthard, the county Liberal Association first announced that it would not be putting up a candidate at the general election, but then stated that they had found a new aspirant in Wynford Thomas, a 22-year-old native of Loughor near Swansea who was a law student at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. Nationally the election was a presidential style campaign with the personalities of Harold Wilson and Ted Heath looming large throughout, and the opinion polls generally suggested that the Labour Party would be returned to government with an overall majority of about twenty seats. The pre election campaign in remote Pembrokeshire had probably lasted longer than in any other constituency – ever since Desmond Donnelly had resigned the Labour whip, been expelled from the party and then formed his own Democratic Party, a series of events which threw the Labour Party organisation in the county into ‘disarray, confusion and consternation’. When Peter Walker, the shadow minister for housing and local government, spoke at the Masonic Hall, Haverfordwest on 15 May, shortly after the general election had been called, he anticipated ‘one of the dirtiest fought elections in history’ .84 Surprisingly, Desmond Donnelly rarely featured in news bulletins broadcast from London during the election campaign, and was just occasionally mentioned in passing as ‘a departed comrade from the Labour Party’. This may be explained by his absence from London as he campaigned hard within Pembrokeshire and in the other five constituencies where Democratic Party candidates were standing.
Late in the campaign Desmond Donnelly characteristically threw a spanner into the works by announcing dramatically at an election press conference that he had received a letter of support from Edward du Cann, a former chairman of the Conservative Party, a ploy which deeply angered local Tories and forced du Cann into making a public denial. A little later Donnelly claimed at a Haverfordwest press conference that he had also received a ‘good wishes’ message for his electoral success there from Edward Heath, a claim which compelled the Conservative leader to interrupt an election tour of the West Country in order to send a communication to the local press in Pembrokeshire – ‘I have not, at any time – wished Mr. Donnelly success in the election campaign in Pembrokeshire’. When pressed further, Donnelly retorted that the message had been hand-written by Heath on the back of a menu for a rugby dinner – ‘It was given to a third party whom I am not prepared to name at this stage. When the chips are down, I will produce the man . . . . It’s perfectly true. It’s in his own handwriting’. Following the publication of this story in the local press, a writ alleging libel was served by Desmond Donnelly on the publishers of the Western Telegraph and a further writ alleging slander was served on Nicholas Edwards by Donnelly.85
At around the same time the Democratic Party published its election manifesto which had as its centre-piece a radical overhaul of the system of personal taxation and the restitution of some form of national service extending for eighteen months to all young people. A separate Welsh manifesto was devolutionist in tone, advocating ‘far less government from London’ for the Welsh people. 86 Donnelly offered himself for re-election to the electors of Pembrokeshire as a ‘tried and trusted representative for twenty years’ who had played a major role in the establishment and expans on of the new county general hospital. Throughout the frenzied campaign he continued to assail Harold Wilson for the massive increase in the national debt, the recent increases in personal taxation, and his failed policies on Rhodesia, South Africa and defence.87
As is well known, the Labour Party lost the June 1970 general election against all the odds, a severe personal rebuff for Harold Wilson who, totally nonplussed and unprepared, soon had to vacate 10 Downing Street at just a few hours’ notice. As Desmond Donnelly had often predicted during the run-up to the election, the next government was to be led by, Edward H eath, who hecame Conservati ve Prime Minister for the first and only time. One of the Conservative gains in the election was Pembrokeshire where Nick Edwards won with a relatively small majority of 1231 votes, and the county reverted to the Tories for the first time since 1929. It was precisely the kind of highly marginal constituency which the Conservatives had needed to win in order to form a government in 1970. Although Donnelly won no fewer than 11,824 votes, a substantial total, he was still beaten into third place behind Gordon Parry and was predictably at once accused of having split the Labour vote in the marginal seat and of thus allowing a Conservative victory. 88 None of the other five Democrat candidates in the election had polled a creditable total poll, and it was widely felt that a bold experiment had come to an end with Donnelly’s personal defeat in Pembrokeshire. It could well be argued that Donnelly’s near obsession with bringing down Harold Wilson had meant the end of his own potentially promising political career. Whereas Wilson was, how ever, to return to government as Prime Minister in February and October 1974, eventually announcing a sudden retirement from the premiership in March 1976, Desmond Donnelly ‘s subsequent fate was especially sad. Not surprisingly, he realised that his defeat at Pembrokeshire in June 1970 heralded the effective end of his Democratic Party and, as widely anti cipated, he made overtures to the Conservative Party. He formally joined the Conservatives, where he had a number of friends, in April 1971, but sadly failed to secure adoption as a prospective parliamentary candidate for the party. Eventually, an intense feeling of political failure, coupled with financial and business pressures, saw him commit suicide on 4 April 1974. Although Nicholas Edwards’s initial return to parliament in June 1970 could perhaps be attributed primarily to the split Labour vote in Pembrokeshire, he subsequently held the constituency until his retirement from parliament in 1987, serving as the secretary of state for Wales during the first two Thatcher administrations. 89
1. See J. Graham Jones, ‘Desmond Donnelly and Pembrokeshire politics, 1964- 70’, Journal of the Pembrokeshire Historical Society, No. 12 (2003), 67-102; and the fuller account available in Allen Layne, ‘Desmond Donnelly ‘, unpublished University of Miami Ph.D. thesis, 2004 .
2. W. Wyatt, Confessions of an Optimist (London, 1985), 295; H. Wilson, The Labour Government, 1964-1970: a personal record (London, 1971), 102;
B. Pimlott, Harold Wilson (London, 1992), 357-58; K. 0. Morgan , Michael Foot : a Life (London , 2007), 239; M. Jones, Michael Foot (London, 1994), 288 . See also J . Grimond, Memoirs (London , 1979), 218-19.
3. P. Ziegler, Wilson: the authorized life of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx (London, 1 993), 2 1 5; The Times, 26 July 1966.
4. Western Telegraph, 29 June 1967.
5. N ational Library of Wales (hereafter NLW), Pembrokeshire Conservative Assoc i ation Records, file 74, W. E. Austen , Opposition Whips’ Office, House of Commons, to W. V. Weale, Pembrokeshire Con servative and Unionist Association , Haverfordwest, 27 November 1967.
6. House of Commons Debates, 5th series, vol. 754, cc. 1196-1201 (21 November 1967).
7 . The Times, 19 and 29 January 1968. Donnelly ‘s resignation letter to John Silkin , the government chief whip, dated 18 January 1 968, was publish in full in The Times, 9 January 1 968.
8. The Times , 20 January 1968. See also ‘Stormy petrel Donnelly is so popular ‘, Western. Mail, 20 January 1968, for a sympathetic evaluation of Donnelly’s local popularity.
9. The Times, 1 February 1 968.
10. The Times, 1 2 February 1968.
11. Western Mail, 9 March 1968.
12. The Times, 22 February and 21 March 1968; Manchester Guardian, 18 March 1968; B. Castle, The Castle Diaries, 1964-70 (London , 1984), 376-77, diary
entry for 21 February 1968.
13. The Times, 21 and 23 March 1968.
14. Minutes of meeting of the Pembrokeshire Constituency Labour Party, 29 March 1 968, cited in Layne, op. cit., p. 334.
16. bid .
17. Western Telegraph , 28 February and 14 March 1 968.
18. Western Telegraph, 2 1 March 1968.
19. . NLW, Pembrokeshire Conservative Association Records, file 74, draft of letter in the hand of Desmond Donnelly to local newspapers [March l 968]. At the close of the campaign Nicholas Edwards was able to prove that some of the letters printed in the local press attacking him and supporting Donnelly were in fact penned by Donnelly and published under false names.
20. The Times, 8 and 10 April 1968.
21. The Times, 18, 25 and 30 April 1968; West Wales Guardian, 1 8 April 1968.·
22. NLW, Lord Crickhowell Papers 4/1 , scrapbook I, unlabelled press cutting from a local newspaper, letter from Colonel I. M. Fogbound, late 1st Battalion, Pembrokeshire Airborne Regiment.
23. NLW, Lord Crickhowell Papers 4/1, scrapbook I, unlabelled press cuttings.
24. West Wales Guardian, 5 April 1968. ·
25. The Times, 18 May 1968; NLW, Labour Party Wales Archives, vol. 12, execu- tive committee minutes, 17 J une 1 968.
26. West Wales Guardian, 3 and 31 May 1968; Western Mail, 5 June 1968.
27. The Times, 24 June 1968.
28. The Times, 1 1 , 13 and 15 July 1 968.
29. Western Telegraph, 4 July 1968.
30. NLW, Lord Crickhowell Papers 4/ I, scrapbook I, unlabelled press cuttings.
31. West Wales Guardian, II October 1 968.
32. NLW, Desmond Donnelly Papers, file B22, Report of Secretary & Agent to the AGM of the Pembrokeshire Labour Party, 6 April 1 968
33. NLW, Lord Crickhowell Papers 4/1, scrapbook 1, unlabelled press cutting from the Western Telegraph.
34. West Wales Guardian, 6 September 1968.
35. NLW, Pembrokeshire Conservative Association Records, file 74, W. V. Weale, Pembrokeshire Conservative and Unionist Association, Haverfordwest, to
L. Wolstenholme, 23 September 1968 (copy); Wolstenholme to Weale, 25 Sep tember 1968.
36. The outcome of the court case was widely reported in the national press. See the reports in The Times, 18 October 1 968, Manchester Guardian, 19 October 1968, Daily Telegraph, 19 October 1968, and the Western Mail, 18 October 1968.
37. Western Telegraph, 3 October 1968.
38. Western Telegraph, 1 7 October 1968.
39. NLW, Lord Crickhowell Papers 4/1 , scrapbook I, unlabelled press cuttings.
40. Western Telegraph, 21 November 1 968; West Wales Guardian, 22 and 29 November and 6 December 1 968; Western Mail, 30 November 1968; NLW, Lord Crickhowell Papers 4/1, scrapbook I, letter from Edward Heath to Nicholas Edwards , 30 November 1 968.
41. Western Telegraph, 12 December 1 968. 42. Western Telegraph, 26 December 1 968.
43. West Wales Guardian, 20 December 1968. See also the Western Mail, 24 October 1968, and Layne, op. cit., pp. 349-51 .
44. See the column entitled ‘Echoes’ in the Tenby Observer, 14 February 1969. 45. Letter from F. D. Worvell , Llanychaer, Fishguard, to the Western Telegraph,
23 January 1969.
46. NLW, Lord Crickhowell Papers 4/1, scrapbook 2, unlabelled press cuttings.
47. Western Telegraph, 6 March 1969; West Wales Guardian, 7 March 1969.
48. NLW, Desmond Donnelly Papers, file A 1041, Donnelly to Sir Roy Welensky, 15 March 1969 (copy).
49. Layne, op. cit., pp. 352-53.
50. West Wales Guardian, 4 April 1969.
51. The Times, 1 April 1969; Western Telegraph, 3 April 1969.
52. The Times, 9 April 1969; Western Telegraph, 10 April 1969; Western Mail, 19 April 1969; R. Crossman, The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister, Vol. 3: Secretary
of State for Social Services, 1968-70 (London, 1977), 447, diary entry for 20 April 1969.
53. NLW, Lord Crickhowell Papers 4/1, scrapbook 2, unlabelled press cutting.
54. The Times, 28 May 1969; Western Telegraph, 8 June 1969; South Wales Evening Post, 2 June 1969; Layne, op. cit., p. 354.
55. Robert Skidelsky, ‘Any chance for Donnelly?’, Sunday Telegraph, 8 June 1 969.
56. NLW, Desmond Donnelly Papers, file F63, unlabelled press cutting from the West Wales Guardian, [June 1969]; Western Telegraph, 12 June 1969.
57. Daily Telegraph, 28 August 1969
58. Noted in The Times, 22 September 1969.
59. West Wales Guardian, 19 September 1969.
60. See ‘Donnelly satisfied with Democratic vote’ , West Wales Guardian, 31 October 1 969.
61 . West Wales Guardian, I O October 1969; Sentinel , 23 October 1969.
62. Western Telegraph, 23 October 1969.
63. NLW, Lord Crickhowell Papers 4/1 , scrapbook 3, unlabelled press cutting.
64. Derby Evening Telegraph, 31 December 1969. See also the interesting article by ‘Radar’ in the Lincolnshire Echo, 2 January 1970 – ‘1970 target for Donnelly the Democrat’.
65. West Wales Guardian, 9 January 1970.
66. The Times, 27 February 1970.
67. Ibid. See also the report in the West Wales Guardian, 27 February 1 970, and the article by David Rosser in the Western Mail, 27 February 1 970.
68. Western Telegraph, 19 March 1970; West Wales Guardian, 20 March 1 970.
69. See the summary in the Daily Mail, 1 6 February 1 970. There are references, too, in a number of many other newspapers and journals.
70. West Wales Guardian, 20 February 1970.
71. Western Telegraph, 19 March 1970.
72. Western Mail, 16 March 1970.
73. Noted in The Times, 4 April 1970.
74. Western Telegraph, 16 April 1970.
75. Norwich Mercury, 24 April 1 970.
76. See the ‘Cross-bencher’ column i n the Sunday Express, 26 April 1970.
77. NLW, Desmond Donnelly Papers C7, Donnelly’s diary entry, 1 6 April 1970, ‘The British General Election’.
78. NLW, Desmond Donnelly Papers file A 1040, no. 47, Donnelly to Dean Acheson, 16 April  (copy).
79. NLW, Desmond Donnelly Papers file A 1040, no. 49, Donnelly to Dean Acheson , 26 April 1 970 (copy).
80. The Times, 6 May 1 970. Also reported in the South Wales Argus, 6 May 1970.
81. NLW, Desmond Donnelly Papers, file A l 041 , no. 50, Donnelly to Sir Roy Welensky, 5 May 1970 (copy).
82. Ibid. no. 52, Welensky to Donnelly, 20 May 1 970 (‘Dictated 17.5.70’).
83. Western Telegraph, 2 l May 1970.
85. Western Telegraph, 4 June 1970. The letter was quoted in full in the West Wales Guardian, 5 June 1970. Western Telegraph, 11 and 18 June 1970.
86. The Times, I June 1970; West Wales Guardian, 12 June 1970.
87. Ibid . and further press cuttings in the NLW, Desmond Donnelly Papers, file F70.
88. See D. Butler and M. Pinto-Duschinsky, The British General Election of 1970 (London, 1971), 412.
89. See the reflections in N. Crickhowell, Westminster, Wales and Water (Cardiff, 1999).